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In my quest for a portable speaker, I picked up one of these and an XMI Mini II speaker (see my other review)... they are both very similar products.
The idea behind the orbit is very similar to the XMI Mini II, to provide portable sound to carry with you whilst out and about, or perhaps to travel light on holiday. The Orbit is quite large, about 90mm across, even though it only houses a 40mm speaker unit. The 3.5mm headphone jack has a cable that is just over 20cm long (so longer than the Mini II) and it neatly stores in a groove in the side of the speaker unit. This does not have rechargeable batteries though, instead it uses three AAA cells. This has one positive, if it runs out you can pop in some more and continue listening. A double negative though... it makes the unit heavy and also in my use they last about 4 hours and then run out of juice.
You turn the unit on by rotating the whole top section of the unit. This was a nice idea, but it does prove quite hard to turn. After just two months it is so stiff to turn the speaker on, that it is a real chore rather than a pleasure.
Sound is good though. A very full bodied sound. Nice bass tones, nice detail. It also delivers a very large sound, so can easily fill a small room, sounding a lot bigger than its tiny size.
If you can live with the dodgy on/off control and less than average battery life, then it is a good contender in the mini speaker market. If it were my money, I would buy the XMI Mini II.
Xmarks Beta is a fantastic little piece of software. I started using this when it was called Foxmarks. Back then it only worked with the Firefox internet browser. Now it has been renamed Xmarks and it works with Internet Explorer and Apple's Safari, as well as maintaining the Firefox compatibility.
The software is so simple in its function, but the purpose it serves it faultless. Basically, you install Xmarks (which is free by the way). Then you set to surfing the internet. We all know the power of bookmarks. You find an interesting website or page and you bookmark it for later use. At a set interval, Xmarks sends your bookmark data up to your account in the cloud. Then when you jump onto your laptop, you want to have access to all those useful bookmarks from your desktop computer. Well, Xmarks synchronises all your bookmarks and downloads them to your laptop. This is fantastic.
So, with this software you can have easy access to all your bookmarked websites. Whether you are using a desktop or laptop, Windows based PC or Apple Mac, Xmarks does a stunning job. Throughout my time using it, I have never experienced any errors. Installing is simple. You really couldn't ask for more.
Lulu is a website that allows you to very easily publish a book. They allow you to upload for example a finished PDF file to their website, design a cover (or upload your own) and then put your book up for sale on their website. If you live in the US you can also buy a ISBN number very easily, which makes your book easier to retail with other vendors. I am in the UK, so had to go along without an ISBN number until I can afford or justify one.
My experience with Lulu so far has been pretty good, with only a couple of problems.
Let me deal with the problems first. Initially, I uploaded some PDF files I created and the preview that they show online was all corrupted. I emailed for help, but no response. So after much trying to sort the problem, I just deleted the preview of the first 8 pages. Second problem was asking again for support, with no response. The only other annoyance was pricing. When setting up a book, you are given a guide price. Little did I know that this was the price if you ordered 25 copies!
So I ordered a sample book, it was delivered really quickly and printed on much better quality paper than I expected. Very glossy laminated cover and really nicely perfect bound. Now my second order is in for 25 copies for friends and family. Wow, will they have a surprise at Christmas.
If you want to give it a go, then I recommend taking things slowly and ordering a sample copy first to check your work.
There are stacks of different options available nowadays for carrying your laptop around in and this one from Belkin fits into the budget end of the market at £20-£25.
It is very nicely designed and has a couple of pockets on the front, big enough to store an MP3 player, compact camera or mobile phone. The straps on the back are adjustable and nicely padded. Having worn one all day (well about 6 hours) loaded up with lunch, a laptop, iPod and a notebook, it was very comfortable indeed.
The zippers into the main compartment are nice and smooth in their action. They also open the bag wide open so you get good access to the contents. Inside there is further organisation pockets for a few pens, maybe some A4 documents, credit cards (if you trust them in a backpack). There is easily room for a power supply (for which they supply a separate zip up pouch). The main compartment for the laptop is not removable. It is however soft lined and well padded. The only area that remains slightly vulnerable is the base of the bag, so I would not put it down too hard. The laptop I used with this was a 15-inch MacBook Pro, which fitted in just nicely. If you have something a little fatter than this, there should still be room.
Overall, this is a good choice if you are on a budget. If you want more features or more padding then you would have to spend a little more.
I got this camera after being a little disappointed with a Sony compact (DSC-WX1) and it was a little cheaper than the Sony. I paid £225 for mine.
The actual camera is a little bigger than I expected. This is not one of those tiny Ixus compacts and is also larger than the Sony X1 which I returned. However, it does feel a lot better built, apart from the flimsy flap on the side which covers the USB and HDMI port. By mentioning the HDMI, I have already given the game away, this shoots HD video alongside taking rather good photos.
The video first then... it shoots in 720P, so perfect for really nice looking video and also a good partner for YouTube uploads too (which is where most of my video ends up). It does have a 12x optical zoom, but when shooting video you cannot use it. Instead you can only digitally zoom up to 4x. I tried this and was disappointed, as the video footage blurs and pixelates. You can get away with a little bit of what I call adjustment zoom though, without losing too much quality. The trick though is to pre-zoom. To do this, you find your subject, zoom in, then start recording. By doing this you can achieve the 12x optical zoom and a crystal clear recording. The video quality is superb, I am very impressed. The sound is good too, far better than I expected.
Taking photos is equally as good. You get 12 megapixel images, with loads of detail and a nice natural colouring to them. Even in darker areas they resolve a lot of detail. So as a regular camera, the SX200IS performs well. Just to confirm the 'IS' stands for Image Stabilisation, which is very handy when using that massive 12x zoom. It really works well and steadies the shot.
One other minor problem, is the flash. When you turn on the SX200 the flash pops up and you cannot push it down with your finger. The only way to get it to go down is to switch the camera off and it electronically goes in. The positioning of the flash is right where you hold the camera. You do get used to it, but Canon need to give this camera a firmware update, so the flash only pops up when needed.
Battery life is great, I got well over 300 photos and about an hour of video from one charge. It is supplied with a charger, so you recharge the battery outside of the camera. I like this, as you can always have a spare charged up for when you need it. In fact I picked up an Energizer battery for the SX200 for £10 delivered. It also uses SD and SDHC memory cards for storage, which is good as they are the most common, so again fairly cheap to pick up.
So apart from the lack of optical video zoom and the annoying flash positioning, the SX200IS is exactly what I was looking for. Great photos, great videos and loads of control. Well done Canon.
Guitar Hero 5 (GH5) is published by Activision and is rated PG. You can play 1-4 players on one PS3 or up to 8 players online. the picture is output at 720P high definition, rather than the higher 1080P. I bought this version as the standalone game, as I already had a guitar controller (Les Paul).
The idea of the game is to play along to the music tracks, pressing the correct buttons and guitar strummer in time to the music. There on-screen graphics show you the performance and the notes you have to hits scroll down the screen. Throughout the various versions, not a lot has changed. However, each new game brings a new updated track listing.
The track listing is awesome, I won't list them all here, but my favourites.
Beastie Boys - "Gratitude"
Blur - "Song 2"
Coldplay - "In My Place"
Gorillaz - "Feel Good Inc."
Nirvana - "Lithium (Live)"
Public Enemy Featuring Zakk Wylde - "Bring the Noise 20XX"
Smashing Pumpkins - "Bullet With Butterfly Wings"
Arctic Monkeys - "Brianstorm"
Blink-182 - "The Rock Show"
The Raconteurs - "Steady As She Goes"
There are a few changes on GH5, one of which is the Jump in/out feature of the Party Play mode. So you can easily let a friend jump in and play midway through a track. There is also a new RockFest mode where you test your skills against 4 local players or 8 online players. The graphics also seem a little more polished and fluid too.
This is a real fun-time party game. Anyone of any ability can have a go and not feel embarrassed. Highly recommended.
As a long time user of Apple Mac computers, I have been subject to Apple's offers of ridiculously price memory upgrades. I can remember the time when their memory was so expensive it would add several hundreds of pounds to an order. I must say though, that I have never ever ordered memory from Apple, as there is a much better alternative.
Crucial Technology offer memory for all types of devices, including Apple computers. They offer a lifetime guarantee too and guarantee compatibility. Their website is very well laid out. Determining what memory you need can be done in two ways. You can either select your computer manufacturer from the drop down list, then the computer type, then the model version... you are then presented with the options for different memory upgrades.
The other method is to download the small Scan My System utility, which when run, looks at your system and tells you what type of memory you need.
Pricing is really great, in some cases less than half the price from Apple. PC memory is also very keenly priced. Delivery on all my orders has been quick. Plus they have an 0800 number, should you need to call them. I give them top marks.
Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare is available on many consoles, here I take a look at the PS3 version. It is published by Activision, rated 16+. 1-4 players can play on the same console, or you can play upto 16 players online.
The picture is glorious in 1080P high definition. Previous to this game I had spent months playing Warhawk, an awesome game in its own right. When I put Call of Duty 4 (COD4) on, graphically it is in a league of its own. The detail of the soldiers and surrounding buildings and trees are great and add to the realism of the game.
On the first few turns it can be quite frustrating, as you turn the corner just to be sniped by an opponent. You soon learn to take things easy though and to hide and peak around around corners. As you level up, you get better weapons and the learning curve lessens. I think my main mistake was not going through some of the story mode first. Instead I leapt straight into online play, with experienced players. Whereas the story mode would have taken me onto a gentler path of learning the game and controls.
Anyway, online is awesome. It is where all the action is, with many modes to choose from. Whether you choose a straightforward Team Deathmatch or perhaps a Capture the Flag scenario, you are guaranteed some superb action.
I also tried the two player, split screen version, but was disappointed that the second player could not invert their control method (whereby you push up and the view goes down, push down and the view goes up). I am so used to playing this way that it made the game unplayable, so be aware of this.
Overall, COD4 is a very graphically rich game, that really draws you into the action.
I have tried and tested a lot of mobile phones in my quest for the perfect mobile, before settling with my HTC Magic. I did however have a week with the HTC Touch Diamond 2.
On first unboxing, the build quality is awesome. This is a very solid and well made phone, with some weight to it. The first power-on was equally impressive. With the flashy graphic interface that HTC have developed, called Touch-Flo. It presents you with your main screen, complete with calendar and useful information displayed. Along the bottom of the screen there is a row of icons to take you into messages, contacts, calendar etc. The touch screen allows you to swipe your finger across these icons to navigate to the feature you want. This is great in theory, but the flashy graphics make the user interface lag and stutter. If the processor was more capable it would be a much nicer experience.
Underneath all the nice graphics, you have Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional. This is another problem. When you stray outside of the Touch-Flo interface, maybe to change some settings, everything goes to the Windows Mobile 'small icon' interface, which is not really finger friendly. So, with the supplied stylus you find yourself prodding away at this nasty interface.
That said, the call quality is great, very clear. Emails work wonderfully. Plus the amount you can do with this handset if you invest the time learning about it and setting things up is very impressive. Battery life is a couple of days for medium use, which is good too. Such a shame that the side is let down by a slow user experience.
This is a very useful device in todays market. A lot of people are buying netbooks, for their portability and of course they do not have an optical drive. It is all fair enough expecting you to download everything, but there comes a time when you just need a CD or DVD reader to install something, or a writer to backup some files.
The eSAU108 is a very attractive device, available in black, pearl white, red or blue. It does not come with a power supply, it is powered through the USB connection. The cable supplied has a Y-connector. So you can connect to two USB ports on your netbook or laptop to give the drive more power if needed. There is an LED light on the drive that glows blue if it has enough power, or red if you need to feed it more power.
It comes with some software. You get Nero 8 Essentials for the PC and Nero 3 Essentials for Linux. This 108 model costs about £45, there is also a 208 model which costs an extra £5 and adds Lightscribe, which allows you to laser label your disks too (you decide if you really need that feature).
Writing is fast and reliable, at up to 8x speed. It is quite quiet too. I completed about 12 disks in my test without any errors.
For such a small package, at such a small price, this is a good buy if you need a portable reader/writer, or something to partner up with that diskless netbook.
I have been a long time user of Epson products and currently use an RX685 printer, which has a built in scanner. It is only when you step up the mark and use a dedicated scanner that you realise what you are missing.
The Perfection V500 Photo scanner is a very well made unit. It feels very solid. It connects via USB and offers a 6400dpi optical resolution. The important spec of the V500 though, is the density range. The 3.4D density range means that this unit resolves a lot of detail in darker areas.
Another great feature is the built in film and negative scanner. This is situated in the lid and comes supplied with different sized adapters. So you can scan normal photos and negatives too. The front of the unit has short cut buttons, one allows you to scan direct to PDF.
You also get Adobe Photoshop Elements 4 for the Windows, and Elements 3 for the Mac. This is nice to get you started. Whilst on that subject, getting started is extremely easy. Simple driver install and ready to go in under tens minutes on my Mac.
This is just under £200 at the moment. Which sounds a lot, but it is worth spending the extra for the superb quality scans.
I am in the lucky position to get mobile phones leant to me on occasion. I am so so glad that I did not buy an iPhone 3GS... don't get me wrong, it IS the best smartphone currently available, but let me tell you why it was not for me.
First, the good points. Superb design, absolutely stacks of features and very very useful. With the iPhone 3GS I could surf the internet, listen to my music, watch videos, play games, Tweet on Twitter, check the Wimbledon scores, play Word Scramble and so much more. I could even check my emails on the move and approve comments on my YouTube videos.
Now, that last paragraph is where the problem is. With the iPhone you can do just too much. I found myself constantly tapping at some game or application, ALL of the time. Then when it came to making a quick phone call, the battery would be finished. A lot of users I know (myself included) complain that the battery does not last a whole day, when compared to their previous Nokia, LG, Samsung or whatever. What people don't realise is that the previous generation of mobile phones were only used for telephone calls and texting. So the iPhone's many features are its own worst enemy in my opinion.
That said, it does an awesome job of keeping you in touch. The call quality is awesome, as is the full colour touch screen. Even my current HTC Magic phone does not match the quality of the iPhone screen. The battery in my HTC does last two days, and I still check my email and Twitter and text on it too. So I think Apple could definitely do better with battery life on the iPhone.
Also, this is not a cheap phone. Though that might change very soon. O2 are soon to lose their exclusivity on the iPhone. This means that it will be available on Orange sometime in October 2009 and Vodafone early 2010. This won't see massive reductions, though if it saves you just £5 per month over 18 or 24 months, that is a nice saving.
So a good phone, but don't just buy it because everyone says it is the best. Look around and see what else might do what you want your mobile phone to do, you might be pleasantly surprised by buying elsewhere.
There are loads of speaker systems out there for your iPod or other brand MP3 player. This one however, differs a great deal. It is so so tiny, with some great design flair added into the deal.
You can pick the XMI X-Mini II up for under £15 now and what you get is a tiny little black speaker. Housed in the speaker is a rechargeable battery. In my use I have got about 6.5 hours of use from a single charge (which is done via USB). You also get an audio cable in the box. This simply connects from the speaker to your iPod. Switch the speaker on, adjust the volume (there is a wheel on the side) and you are good to go. The sound is very good, nice and loud with a good amount of detail. Bass is acceptable too.
The big surprise though is turning the top of the unit. The top portion then springs up and the sound jumps to life. It makes the range of the speaker so much greater. Bass now starts really kicking in. I had this speaker literally moving around my table with the low notes on some house tracks, it was awesome. Then there is another trick to this tiny little powerhouse. If you like it (and I am certain you will), buy a second one. you can then connect them together. In fact you can continue daisy-chaining them together and surround yourself with loads of X-Mini II speakers. now that would be really cool.
The volume is amazing, as is the fullness of sound this tiny speaker delivers. When your finished, pack it into the supplied pouch and save it for another day. A real bargain!
If you look at my other reviews, you will see I have owned quite a bit of Apple kit. Just to confirm, I have actually owned each and every one (with a few exceptions, where they were loaned to me).
Anyway, this 15-inch Apple MacBook Pro is my latest machine. I took a long time deliberating if I should opt for the matte screen version and pay and extra £30. After a few days I decided that the stock gloss screen would be fine. I must say that I made the right decision. With the matte screen it seems like you lose some of the picture definition. Plus the matte is recessed and thus there is extra nooks where dust can gather. This gloss screen is flush to the edges, looks the part, colours pop, and the backlighting is very even. Yes, you do get reflections, but adjust the screen angle and maybe turn a little and they are easily dealt with.
I ordered mine on the 9th September and it came with the latest Snow Leopard OS installed, plus the latest restore disk in the box, so all good there. The software is very stable and fast, a real joy to use.
You can no longer swap the battery out on this version. Apple integrated it into the design. They claim 7 hours of use on a single charge. They are not far off. I managed 7hrs 15mins on one occasion, all other times I have got between 5 and 7 hours, so pretty darn good.
The processor is nice and fast, zipping through all my tasks, including some video editing. This is helped along by the fact that you get 4GB of memory pre-installed. At last you get a decent amount as standard, so you needn't worry about upgrading this. Though if you need to, the latest range of MacBook Pros now take upto 8GB of RAM. The graphics cards are cool too. You can choose between the NVidia GForce 9400M integrated card, which will give you good performance and better batter life. You also get a second choice, as this laptop also has a 9600M GT card with dedicated video memory on it. To make the switch you have to log out of your session and back in again, but then you get better graphics performance, which is offset against slightly shorter battery life.
The idea behind this is, to use the 9400M when out-and-about, then switch to the 9600M GT when you are back in the office or at home and plugged into the mains power... well at least, that it what I do.
The size of the laptop is nice and compact, very slim and it is not that heavy. If you need something smaller, then there is always the 13-inch version. This 15-inch MacBook Pro has a nice compromise between size and power, plus the bigger screen gets you a nice 1440x900 resolution. All-in-all this is a very nice laptop. You certainly get what you pay for.
When Apple announced Snow Leopard, most users would not have stood up and shouted "This is a MUST BUY product!" There were not that many new features, instead Apple were just touting an optimised operating system. It would install faster, take up less space, work more efficiently etc etc.
Well, this is so true and it is what really makes sense. Just to touch on previous years of both Mac OS and Microsoft Windows. The two companies always seemed to be trying to out-do each other. Stuffing in as many new features and special effects to their software as they could. Apple managed to do this with the previous version Leopard (10.5.x) elegantly, with it becoming a very stable and feature rich system. Whereas Microsoft seemed to make Vista a bloated piece of software, that did not get a lot of good press.
Apple's stance with Snow Leopard is like a breath of fresh air. The system for me installed smoothly. It got me back over 8GB of hard disk space. It starts up nice and fast and seems to be very stable.
A few bad points... some of my software did not work as expected. My Safari browser no longer worked well with Google Gears, which I use to upload videos to YouTube. My Xerox 6130 laser printer also stopped working, so I had to fiddle with drivers to switch back to a generic one to get a printout.
Other than that, everything is uber fast and stable. There were some nice changes to the OS too. Stacks (which you use for quick access to certain areas of your files) is now refined. You can now navigate through folders with Stacks. The Finder is nicer, you can zoom up big versions of icons that represent your files. If the file happens to be a video file, you can play it back in the icon, without even opening it, how cool is that! There is also a new version of Quicktime (called Quicktime X) for playing back your video files. No major changes, it just looks sleeker. I also now like the way that when you minimise a window, it disappears behind the associated application icon in your dock. All small changes, but very welcome.
Now onto the price. Apple could have charged £80-£100 for this. Instead you can upgrade for just £25. Well done Apple, sensible pricing will make this a no brainer for many.